Ontario Pinot Noir with Your Turkey
If Thanksgiving is about celebrating local bounty, and you like cranberry with your bird, then there is only one wine choice for your holiday table—Ontario VQA pinot noir. This light red just loves poultry and is morphing into a specialty of our cool climate, with a number of promising pinots emerging, most since the 2002 vintage. New names like Flat Rock Cellars, Tawse Estate, and Coyote’s Run of Niagara, plus Norman Hardie, Rosehall Run and Long Dog of Prince Edward County are leading the way—although often, with limited production, the wines are found only at the wineries themselves. We eagerly await the debut of new pinots from Le Clos Jordanne, the Niagara-based joint venture between Boisset of Burgundy and Vincor. On October 17, the local media gets to taste the range and I will duly report on that at the time.
The Burgundy-Niagara comparison is spot on because our latitude and growing conditions are very similar, including the currently humid August-September conditions that give growers fits. Pinot’s tight, pine cone-shaped bunches (pineau in French) rot easily in a wet environment. The wines are similar too although few of our pinots have yet developed the vine age, viticultural traditions and specific siting of Burgundy’s best “crus. But Ontario pinot has more in common with Burgundy than it does with other pinot hot spots like Oregon, New Zealand or California. This is not a quality judgment, but a stylistic commentary.
The dominant flavour of Ontario pinot noir is of sour, sometimes bitter red fruit—cranberry, pomegranate, red currant, raspberry and sour cherry are common descriptors, some with a beetroot earthiness. With these fruits come firm, sometimes tart acidity. Pinot works beautifully to foil the richness of turkey, Cornish hen, quail, etc. while providing contrasting flavours, especially if herbal, spicy dressing is added to the mix. Before serving it will help to decant and aerate young Ontario pinot for an hour or two, and serve it just a touch cool.
Here are some more readily available examples in ascending price order, and where to find them.
Chateau des Charmes 2004 Pinot Noir **1/2 ($12.95 LCBO) Quite floral, raspberry, lightly spicy nose is pretty if simple. Light to mid-weight pinot with tart acidity, earthy notes and some green tannin. Moderate to good length.
East Dell 2005 Pinot Noir **1/2 ($14.95, LCBO) Earthy, burlap note crowds ripe raspberry, floral flavours. Light to medium bodied, with an even, fruity middle then a tart, dry finish. Good length.
Cave Spring 2004 Pinot Noir *** ($15.95 LCBO) Light, correct pinot with pale ruby-garnet colour. Spicy, peppery, dill, cran-raspberry fruit and background clove spice from new oak. Light to mid-weight, with a dusty tannic finish. Best now to 2008.
Inniskillin 2004 Pinot Noir Reserve ***1/2 ($16.80, LCBO) Nicely balanced, youthful, classy pinot noir with ripe strawberry-cherry fruit layered amid vanilla, wood smoke and earthy notes. Light to medium bodied, gentle with firm dusty tannin. Good length. Best 2008 to 2010.
Henry of Pelham 2004 Pinot Noir ***1/2 ($16.90, LCBO) More weight, grip and complexity than other 2004s. Spicy cran-raspberry fruit with pine, leather and wood smoke. Mid-weight, firm and balanced with a dry finish. Very good length. Now to 2009.
Flat Rock 2004 Pinot Noir *** ($19.95, Vintages) Now starting to mature a bit, this is light, crisp pinot with cran-cherry fruit, earth, spice and wood smoke. Lively taut, sweet and sour palate with a slightly bitter finish. Very good length, with clove spice and raspberry fruit.
Flat Rock 2004 Gravity Pinot Noir ***1/2 ($29.95, Vintages)Lifted red currant-cranberry fruit with cinnamon stick, light smoke and some floral character. Quite supple, charming, mid-weight palate with some baby fat. Rootsy slightly earthy finish. Fine tannin although some bitterness. Best 2007 to 2010.
Henry of Pelham 2002 Speck Family Reserve **** ($40, www.winerytohome.com)Heading into garnet-brick maturity. The nose shows generous cran-cherry fruit with smoky, dusty wood, earthy and pine forest scents. Some bitterness on the finish will recede with the tannin. Best 2007 to 2010. Last tasted in 2005.